The Heroism of Satyagraha

Our heroes must be spiritual.

–Swami Vivekananda

What does the method and philosophy of Satyagraha reveal? It exposes the heart of human nature, in all of its contradictions. The law of satyagraha compels us to act with soul force, which necessitates activation of our soul memory, our spirit consciousness.

If it follows that we were still born though we do not remember our babyhood, then it is also true that our soul-force stores memories from many lifetimes through which we have traveled. Just because we do not remember our babyhood, for example, does not mean we did not exist. This line of thought was illumined in the teachings of Swami Vivekananda; it also drove the pedagogy of Gandhiji’s satyagraha. the soul is infinite, a persistent energetic impulse perambulating the universe. It merely changes form as it morphs through time. Moksha, when the soul liberates itself from rebirth, is not unlike supernova. The soul achieves unity with space and time and does not need to resolve its contradictions in earthly life; it is free to join with Brahman. The soul-force or the Atman is our direct connection to the force we know as God or Brahman. This is why those souls who attain this unity with Brahman, mahasamadhi, escape the illusion of physical life and experience a perfect bliss. It is the peace of godly love, the peace which transcends understanding as posited in Christian doctrine.

In satyagraha, the soul force must be compelled to take refuge in this truth: that the soul being eternal, the body is merely a vessel, as frail as it is powerful. This realization gives the satyagrahi immense soul confidence, the authority to act with the superhuman courage that brings forth the great men and women of an epoch. The soul is time itself, for it bears a record of its rebirths and so is conscious of its antiquity and its future at the same time. It is a force in the universe comparable to other forces such as gravity.

If it follows that the purpose of human civilization is to evolve a culture of absolute peace, in our progress from our primitive origins, then ahimsa or the way of non-violence that is revealed when one seeks the truth of the soul force is the only pathway forward in a time that desperately demands such soul-awakening. Satyagraha is often portrayed as a weaker cousin of the “real” revolution. However, lest we misconstrue its true intent: satyagraha is entirely active if we take human will and conscience to be acting forces in nature.

Satyagraha thus demands a fierce courage and loyalty to the call of soul-truth, which may necessitate imperilment even of the physical body in the fight, paradoxically, to save one’s soul. The satyagrahi’s consciousness of her capacity to renounce the law of self-preservation and embrace self-immolation creates the courage to sacrifice even the body if necessary in the pursuit of love, freedom, and justice. The soul is not free in conditions where untruth and decadence prevail.

The soul force then is the voice within us that cries out for justice of God, an seething energy capable of defeating the evil lurking in the heart of man. it compels us to be killed rather than be moved to kill ourselves. We have been taught in Western civilization that the drives of human nature cannot be overcome, that we are victims of our natures, that the causes of our problems are due to external rather than internal factors. In this paradigm, desire becomes misconstrued as need and we are forever using this tragic misconception to justify the illusion of reality that keeps us trapped behind loveless masks. We are trapped because we are afraid to let go and because we are afraid to let go, we cannot love. We become stronger when we learn to discern the differences between one and the other, between genuine need and frivolous desire.

Western psychoanalysis holds that we cannot overcome our base instincts due to certain uncontrollable factors or complexes that mandate certain inevitabilities in our social relations to each other. Consequently, the allegories of Oedipus and Electra are invoked to justify certain sexual impulses in man and woman. And yet, what of those who manage to transcend such impulses through the unity of mind and heart?… Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. He did not find answers in Freud (neither did Dr. King, interestingly). Rather, he turned to scripture, producing copious translations and notes of the Gita, the Bible, The Quran, and other gospels. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself.

We remain victims in the Western conception of reality and human nature because we are forever blaming forces beyond ourselves instead of taking charge of our inner drives, which more often than not lead us astray from the marrow of existence, which is the soul-force or prana. The psychoanalytic seems an impoverished view of the human personality to me; we are human precisely because we take responsibility, on our best days, for our actions. Human beings are also capable of transcending their conditions. A poor man can make something of nothing; genius overcomes struggle by gaining mastery of it; both a rich man and a poor man can be enslaved to their natures.

Taking responsibility requires humility and patience with one’s limitations. It takes immense inner strength and willpower to say no to that which restricts one’s growth and well-being. It takes greater strength to exemplify in your response to this force, whose origin is the fiend who roams the world bloodlustily, that you will not mimic his behavior and dishonor your soul force by retaliating.

In your resistance to evil, however, you must paradoxically not resist and so this is why Jesus said resist not evil. Only the ancient sages and prophets have managed to detach from maya, the illusion that keeps us attached to the physical body. we must overcome these lower urges which today most tragically suffuse the values of a decaying Western empire. Like the Buddha, Mohandas K. Gandhi saw the profound misery accompanying the self-indulgence of worldliness. He sought to educate, clothe, and feed the sons and daughters of India. He strove mightily to cure the blight of caste oppression. He fought to free the soul of India from the unbearable agony of three hundred years of imperialism, which had orchestrated immense suffering in India. Under the English, Bharat Mata was raped and exploited, her wealth looted, her education neglected and her future darkened. Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself. This is why he renounced meat, sex, wealth, luxury, and other distractions which keep us attached to the illusions we tragically mistake for reality.

Like Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji’s renunciations awakened the West as the Buddha had awakened the East. In the United States, the African-American people who were making triumphs in their long march to freedom began to hear of Gandhiji’s political agitations in South Africa as well as India. Many African-American leaders, like Howard Thurman, Benjamin E. Mays, William Nelson, and James Lawson, would make pilgrimages to study the Indian anti-colonial movement and the power of the soul-force in the progress of our struggle. They shared with Indians the spirituals of their church, many met with Gandhiji, others organized their people using methods they learned during their pilgrimage. Musicians like Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, and others riffed and improvised on the Eastern theme, awakening the slumbering spirit of the Afro-Asiatic sound. Black universities began teaching courses on satyagraha and Ahimsa as political tactics in the struggle for civil rights. In a manifestation of Gandhi’s prophecy to Howard Thurman that it would be through the American Negro that the the message of non-violence would bear fruit, black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama committed satyagraha by refusing to ride the segregated bus lines. And so, Sermon on the Mount united with the eternal Song of the Gita yielding to satyagraha in America.

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